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Sincerity: How a Moral Ideal Born Five Hundred Years Ago Inspired Religious Wars, Modern Art, Hipster Chic, and the Curious Notion That We All Have Something to Say (No Matter How Dull) Hardcover – July 16, 2012
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"This is a book that adds sincerity to the list of modern qualities worth serious attention, offering nuanced definitions and a solid connection between past causation and current manifestations. It casts new light on modern art broadly construed, amplifying some of the key interactions and tensions between popular arts and the wider society." (Peter N. Stearns, Provost, George Mason University, in The American Interest)
"Energetic...well-researched...Magill proves most lively as he brings the reader up to date; his Hipster Semiotic Appendix demonstrates his acuity and sense of humor." (Publishers Weekly)
"A sophisticated meditation...a rewarding read...[Magill writes with]
scholarliness, humor, and humanity....Two recently deceased men who knew about sincerity and silliness, Christopher Hitchens and Maurice Sendak, would approve of the whole enterprise....Anti-intellectuals need not apply." (Library Journal)
"An illumination of the shifting attitudes and ambivalence toward a value that society claims to hold in high esteem....Sincerity proves to be a richer topic than readers might initially suspect." (Kirkus Reviews)
"A charming and thought-provoking account of the concept [of sincerity], from its theological origins to its (more contested) role in contemporary culture....Magill's analysis is provocative and penetrating." (Glenn C. Altschuler, The Oregonian)
"Fascinating. . . . Mr. Magill's range is extraordinary, and his wit, erudition and powers of observation give credence to [his] judgments." (Daniel Akst - Wall Street Journal )
"Intriguing. . . . Magill agilely traces his subject through the ages." (Rachel Shteir - New Republic )
“Sincerity is a serious and engaging cultural history painted on an admirably large canvas, yet Magill is careful not to take himself too seriously, as evidenced in his snarky asides and chatty footnotes. He wraps up on an eminently reasonable note: society needs both sincerity and insincerity. You can’t go too far in either direction: neither the frothy superficiality of court society nor the deadly purposefulness of the French Revolution. Who can argue with that?” (Laura Kipnis - New York Times Book Review )
About the Author
R. Jay Magill, Jr. is an independent scholar living in Berlin, where he works for the American Academy as a writer and editor, as well as a host of a radio program on NPR Worldwide. He is the author of Chic Ironic Bitterness (2007), and Sincerity (2012). A former Harvard teaching fellow and executive editor of DoubleTake, Magill has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Policy, American Prospect, Boston Globe, Der Spiegel, and Print, among others. Magill is also a staff illustrator at the political bimonthly The American Interest. He lives in Berlin with his wife and son.
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The book is just slightly less timely than it might be this fall because sincerity is not the hot-button issue of Election 2012, as it was when Sarah Palin appeared on the scene in 2008 and one political party seemed to have a lock on the concept. But Magill doesn't limit himself to politics - he exhumes the hipster sensibility that has evolved form irony to a kind of strained sincerity and dissects it with wit and style. Highly recommended read.
I bought it because of the full title "Sincerity: How a moral ideal born five hundred years ago inspired religious wars, modern art, hipster chic, and the curious notion that we all have something to say (no matter how dull)" Brilliant.
After racing over half a millennium in 154 pages, the author reaches the middle of the 20th century. He writes, "Meanwhile, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, and Charlie Parker were bringing the outsider image of cool remove to its apogee. In opposition to the heavily produced and jittery rock and roll of Elvis Presley, they were moved etc., etc."
The truth is that Miles, Monk, and Bird were well on their way to jazz greatness in the 1940s--and Bird had died in March, 1955, well before Elvis made his nationwide splash in 1956.
So, these jazzmen didn't react in any opposition to Elvis; they came first.